A Beautiful Bond: When Salome Met Loijipu

Salome is a community ranger in Sera Conservancy, Northern Kenya, since 2015. She is based at the Rhino Sanctuary and is in charge of protecting ‘Loijipu’, Sera’s rescued and returned prodigal black rhino calf, now three and a half years’ old. Read about her special bond with this characterful young calf.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you come from and how long have you been a ranger?

A. My name is Salome. I was born and raised in nearby village, called Sere Olipi, one of the very few villages in a vast territory where there is only a very small human population. I went to school in the same village and then I joined Sera Conservancy as a ranger in June 2015.

Q. Why did you want to become a ranger?

A. I have always been passionate about nature and about conserving wildlife. We grow up surrounded by wildlife and we love it. So, I always hoped to be able to get a job in conservation. Also, being employed by our own community is a source of pride and of financial stability for my entire family.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?

A. I just love wildlife and, in my job, you are surrounded by animals. We are protecting them and making sure they thrive on our beautiful land.

Q. How long have you been looking after ‘Loijipu’?

A. Immediately after Loijipu was relocated back to Sera Conservancy from Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in June 2018, I started preparing milk for him and this created a strong bond between me and Loijipu. Now he doesn’t need my milk any longer, but I’m still his guardian and his keeper and when he walks, browsing through the bushes and feeding himself with leaves, I’m always next to him to reassure him and to keep him company.

Q. What can you share with us some “secrets” about his personality?

A. First of all, Loijipu is a friendly black rhino. From the moment our bond began, he picked up everything about me: my voice, my smell, and he just turned out to be like my baby. Even today it’s enough for him to remain a few minutes without my presence, and he will start to be anxious, and will cleverly follow my footprints until he finds me.

Q. What are some of the challenges you face in looking after him?

A. A big challenge is when he leaves to browse on his own and encounters other male rhinos while feeding: it is a potentially dangerous situation, where the other rhinos might not accept him and seeing him walk innocently towards them, they might start to fight him off and even injure him. So, my job is to make sure that he doesn’t fall into any trouble: I try to scare the other rhinos away if I see that they are upset by Loijipu’s presence, but I have to be careful because rhinos can be aggressive to humans too.

Q. When do you expect Loijipu to return completely to the wild?

A. Yes, but not soon. With the danger of him getting injured by the other male rhinos, a fence was built surrounding a territory large enough for him, and he will likely spend up to six years inside this enclosure. When he is a full adult and is big enough to defend himself, the enclosure will be removed, and from there on he will be on its own.

Q. What has been your most favourite moment / experience with him?

A. I have many wonderful memories collected during our two years together, so it is difficult to choose just one. Maybe my favourite moments are when I detect behavioural changes on daily basis, you can tell when he is moody and when he is happy, all territorial behaviour as well. I also love the fact that we protect each other: he is my big body guard, because he is very good at detecting the presence of other animals through his amazing sense of smell, while we walk in the bush. When it happens, he alerts me of a potential danger. His senses of smell and hearing are so powerful that even when we walk alone in the middle of this large, vast savannah, I am relaxed and I feel safe.

Q. Why is protecting the black rhino so important?

A. The black rhino is a critically endangered species: thirty years ago, poachers wiped out the black rhino from Northern Kenya, and that’s why we are taking all measures to protect them for our future generations.

Q. What makes Sera Conservancy so special? Why should guests visit?

A. Sera is the first community conservancy to own and manage a black Rhino Sanctuary in East Africa, and they have done all they can to protect 10 black rhinos introduced from other areas, and now the population has risen to 17. And Sera Conservancy has become the first conservancy where guest can track rhinos on foot. It is my home and it is a wonderful place, very inspiring with its wild beauty.